What does it mean to accept one's body? How does it feel? We see acceptance words reflected back to us in body positive media, in talk shows, in self-help books. We know that we're supposed to do something but we're not sure what, and sometimes we might even feel a sense of shame because we aren't able to be as self-accepting and body-accepting as we're supposed to. But here's something I would like us all to remember. It's not easy to be self-accepting in the cultural climate we live in. We live in a culture of non-acceptance. We are encouraged to bring out only our best sides, to be polished and to be positive. If your are feeling like you're not good enough, you are not alone.
Accepting ones body does not necessarily mean getting up every morning and admiring one's awesome body in the mirror. The body in the mirror is just an image, and it only reflects part of why our bodies truly are awesome. Accepting one's body is more about really getting to know it, to look at it with curiosity, to feeling it, to thinking about what it's up to all day long. It's about building a new relationship with one's body, a relationship that's curious, accepting, supportive and nuanced. Think about other good relationships in your life. Are they one-sided? Are they always the same? Are they perfect?
Eating disorders often require perfection from the person they are trying to get hold of. Performance in different tasks needs to be perfect, school grades need to be great, the image projected outwards needs to be one of a person doing really well, a projection of a happy success. This is one of the reasons eating disorders often go undetected for a long while. If the eating disorder has managed to deprive the person of nutrition, the person often looks like a success too, because of our preoccupation with thinking slim bodies = healthy bodies = successful bodies. This of course is not a real fact. Slim bodies can be unhealthy, bigger bodies can be very healthy. There are many studies that show that there are nuances to this story, and that body shape is not nearly as exact an indicator of health as we have allowed ourselves to believe. Working towards changing perceptions about some bodies being right and others being wrong helps diminish the power of eating disorders. Eating disorders often find it more difficult to survive in cultures of acceptance and nuance.
So where can we start when it comes to renegotiating the relationship we have with our own body? How can we move this relationship from being rather black and white (bodies as either perfect or imperfect) to being nuanced and interesting? Try the following couple of exercises:
- Take a break from whatever you're doing. Sit still, relax, breathe so that you can feel your stomach expanding and relaxing with your breath. Check in with your stomach and feel how it's doing. Is it at peace? Is it busy doing digesting work? Is it telling you something about being hungry or full? Just listen to it for a little while, then check back out again giving it a friendly thought, maybe thanking it for keeping your immune system going, or just for being there, making your body whole.
- If you find yourself looking into a mirror, instead of giving it a mirror look (that standard look that we all have when checking ourselves out in a mirror), make a different face. Like a surprised look, or a natural smile that isn't your photo-smile. If you're at home (or feel comfortable doing silly things anywhere – I wish I was!), position your body differently than usual. Take a sprinter pose, or lift your arms up, or stand on one leg balancing. What does that look like? And what does it feel like?
I wish you all a happy Eating Disorders Awareness Week. If you're in BC, check out some of the great events that are on through PEDAW (Provincial Eating Disorders Awareness Week) by going to the Love Our Bodies Love Ourselves Facebook page.